So much of raising a child involves dissemination. Of wisdom and information, of values and inspiration, of penalties and praise. And let us not forget the mother of all parental offerings: Car keys and cold, hard cash.
Band-Aids, too. Lots of Band-Aids are meted out over the span of two decades or more.
But it seems the real challenge for parents involves finding the right words and ensuring that our messages are, in fact, delivered—especially when fate hands us the tough stuff. Death and disappointment. Failings and frustrations. Tension and turmoil. Indeed, the stormy seasons of life are when we are tested most.
And so often I feel shamefully deficient in this department—as if I can’t string a coherent sentence together when it really counts. Like when my kids are consumed by negativity, self-loathing and doubt, or when I’m riddled with a barrage of questions for which there are no answers. That is the point at which I fumble and fish for a snippet of speech that promises to soothe what is unsettled, to mend what is broken and to provide what is sorely needed. The “right words,” as it were, are elusive at best, buried beneath volumes of discourse and drivel that fail to deliver.
Case in point: One of my charges became hostile and practically imploded while tackling her homework not long ago. And alas, I was unable to pull her from the wreckage—demonstrating (yet again!) my woeful ineptitude as a parent. The outburst from hell unfolded thusly.
Evidently, my child left the Land of Composure and in a fit of rage choked the life out of her pencil while attempting to obliterate what was apparently a mistake on her homework paper. I watched in horror as she very nearly rubbed a hole in the place where a poor, defenseless math problem once lay unsullied and without fear of retribution. As her face grew redder and her utterances more guttural, I realized then and there that my parenting skills (or lack thereof) would soon be called into question. I needed the right words and I needed them fast.
I paused briefly before saying anything inordinately daft, hoping against hope that I would somehow stumble upon the perfect parental response to such belligerence. Would a bit of humor, compassion or punishment do? Perhaps ignoring her hideous behavior made more sense. Or a distraction—maybe I needed some sort of outlandish distraction in order to effectively calm the beast within. At any rate, I hadn’t a clue what would work. So I took a stab at the impossible task, wending my way through the tangle and torrent of emotions.
Me: “Hey, what’s with all the erasing? You’re going to light the place on fire if you keep that up,” I teased—all the while wondering how long it would take before her eraser neatly ate through the varnish on my table.
Child: “I’m STUPID,” she groused. “It was an ADDITION problem and I did SUBTRACTION. So now I have to erase it and start all over again. Grrrrr….”
Me: “Oh, I see,” I offered lamely. “So you messed up. Anyone can mess up,” I continued.
Child: “Yeah, but I had to borrow and trade and all this other stuff FOR NOTHING. I did ALL THAT WORK…FOR NOTHING! It was a big waste of time!” she spat, literally seething with anger.
Me: “But think of the benefit of practice!” I cheered. “You practiced your subtraction skills! Which helps you improve! So it wasn’t a waste after all!”
Me: “You practice dribbling a soccer ball, don’t you? And that makes you better. You practice gymnastics routines, and that makes you better, too, right?” I quizzed, banking on pure logic to drive home my point.
Child: Rolls eyes and gives me a dour look—one that suggests she’s thoroughly annoyed with my existence.
Me: “Tell me I’m not right,” I challenged. “Practically everything you do in this life could be classified as practice and helps you improve!” said the self-appointed Glee Club Captain.
Child: “Oh, yeah, WHAT IF I CHEWED ON MY TOES?! Is that PRACTICE, huh?! Does that make me a better TOE CHEWER or something?! Hrrrmph.”
At this I was stumped—and likely agape. I had no snappy comeback on the tip of my tongue, no nugget of wisdom lurked in my mind and there were no viable arguments that could be summoned in my defense.
Once again, the right words were nowhere to be found. So I crawled back in my box, wondering how much more PRACTICE I might need to get this parenting thing down.
Planet Mom: It’s where I live (forever searching for the right words).
Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel